Efforts of the United States and Japan to oppose China’s attempts to advance its illegal claims in the South China Sea are aligned with the interest of the Philippines to preserve sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines’ former top diplomat said.

Former Foreign Affairs Sec. Albert del Rosario issued this statement in response to comments from China that the US and Japan have no business getting involved in the South China Sea since they don’t claim any part of it like the Philippines

US President Joseph Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida earlier held a summit video teleconference, during which they agreed, among others, to oppose China’s attempts to change the status quo in the South China Sea and its use of economic coercion to achieve its ends.

Both the US and Japan invoked the 2016 Arbitral Ruling against China’s illegal claims in the South China Sea.

As such, Del Rosario said the Philippines should undertake more concrete steps to enforce the 2016 Arbitral Ruling by solidifying the support of the international community.

While the US and Japan are not coastal states in the South China Sea, Del Rosario noted that “they have a real and tangible interest in preserving the Rule of Law in the region.”

“International law grants all nations of the world, including the US and Japan, freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea – which is critical for global economic trade and maintaining peace and security in the region,” he added.

The international law that applies in the South China Sea is embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and, specifically, the 2016 Arbitral Ruling won by the Philippines against China in The Hague.

Amid incursions in the West Philippine Sea, a total of PHP29 billion has been earmarked for this year’s modernization program of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, chairman of the strategic intelligence committee of the House of Representatives, said the “fresh funding” for acquisition projects is higher by PHP2 billion, or 7.6 percent, from the PHP27 billion the AFP received in 2021.

“The bulk of the new money would enable the Department of National Defense (DND) to make the initial payment for the procurement of 32 additional S-70i Black Hawk helicopters worth PHP32 billion,” Pimentel said.

He said the combat utility choppers from Polish aerospace manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. would be “delivered in batches between 2023 and 2026.”

Pimentel also disclosed that in December 2021, the DND made the down payment for the acquisition of two brand-new 116-meter corvettes worth PHP28 billion from South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Heavy Industries Co. Ltd.

At the same time, the administration lawmaker said the DND is also expected to finalize this year the procurement of six 83-meter offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) worth PHP30 billion from Australian defense contractor Austal Ltd.

Pimentel said he was glad that while super typhoon Odette devastated provinces in Mindanao and Visayas in December 2021, it also “clearly demonstrated the growing importance” of AFP’s naval and air assets in disaster relief operations.

Global risk agencies have tagged the Philippines as one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, being at the center of a typhoon belt and inside the Pacific Ring of Fire frequented by volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

Pimentel cited the crucial role played by Philippine Navy vessels and Philippine Air Force planes in mobilizing disaster relief.